As a writer who not only speaks publicly about writing, but also organizes writing workshops and seminars as part of her day job, it always amazes me what sorts of things writers think others in their field want to hear about.
The reason for this, I think, is that they don’t understand the difference between speaking as a writer and speaking as an author.
When you’re speaking as a writer, you’re speaking about the craft or business of writing to other writers.
When you’re speaking as an author, you’re speaking about your work itself to readers or potential readers of that work. You might read an excerpt of your book, or talk about your specific characters, setting, or plot in great detail.
For many, speaking as an author is a vital part of marketing your book. However, many writers choose to expand their platform and even secure an alternative stream of income by giving seminars at writing conferences.
If this describes you, and you’d like to give a talk that inspires, informs, and impresses, please follow the tips below to make your writing talk as successful as possible!
1. Know what your audience wants to hear about.
It’s a good idea to gauge audience desires and expectations so that you can tailor your talk accordingly. It’s helpful to get an idea of what type of writers your audience will be comprised of.
Some sample questions to ask yourself:
Are they already published, or is publication a goal they’re still working towards?
How old are they?
Do they write fiction or nonfiction? Literary or popular?
Are they interested in traditional publishing or indie publishing?
Are they NaNoWriMo participants?
The list of questions goes on and on. Ask the event organizer what type of audience they’re expecting, and put yourself in their shoes. Someone who has already published ten novels probably won’t be impressed with a ‘beginner’s intro to publishing’, while a new writer in need of inspiration and encouragement won’t find value in a seminar on querying agents.
2. It’s not a book club, so don’t talk about your book.
I. Writers don’t care about your book.
Have you ever had someone bring up a movie, then when they find out that you’ve never seen said movie, they begin telling you all its important/interesting/funny details? Or worse, continue to obliquely reference the movie even though you have no idea what they’re talking about?
That’s what it’s like when you talk about your book to a writing group. Trust me, they don’t care. Don’t confuse those in-the-name-of-politeness, stretched-on smiles for interest. They are bored and/or confused.
Think about it: have you yourself ever gone to a writing seminar? Why were you there? I’m going to bet you wanted to learn information that would help you improve your writing or marketing prowess.
II. Writers aren’t going to buy your book.
They just aren’t, unless it’s about writing. Studies have shown that marketing to other writers is an ineffective sales technique.
The one thing that might change their mind? Hearing great writing tips. Show them you know your writing stuff, and they’ll be curious to see how you use all those tips and techniques, and may even just want to support you by buying your product.
Not to mention that they will feel cheated if they expected a writing seminar and instead were treated to two hours of you talking about your character’s motivation. Even if you aren’t charging them money, you’re taking their time, which is a valuable resource. Disgruntled people are highly unlikely to buy your book.
III. Even if they would read your book, you’re giving away plot points.
There is a tiny cross-section of your audience who may be willing to buy your book – perhaps they think you have good advice and want to see how you use it, perhaps they’re fans of your genre, or perhaps they simply want to support you by purchasing your work.
But by blithely mentioning the twists and surprises of your book, you’re actually removing any incentive for them to actually read the thing.
Moral: don’t talk about your book. The one exception is if you’re using something in your book as an example of one of your talking points. Even then, it’s best to use an example from a popular work that more people are likely to have seen or read. This shows that the information or techniques you’re talking about are used by other successful authors.
Of course, if someone asks about your book, answer shortly and succinctly. Try to hide your smugness of having fanboys/girls crash your writing talk, and keep in mind that the majority of attendees came to hear you talk about a specific topic.
3. Have a topic.
J.K. Rowling might be able to get away with rambling on about any old thing, whether it’s about writing, Harry Potter, or unrelated to either of those topics. That’s because she’s rocking the halo effect big time – meaning that her books have done so well, audiences automatically think that anything she says must be important.
You’re not J.K. Rowling (and if you are, hey, call me!. No one wants to hear long, drawn-out stories about your life or family, unless it pertains directly to your topic.
If you can keep it under control, a few short (operative word, short) asides may make your talk more interesting and relate-able, and may help people connect with you and identify with you on an emotional level. Just don’t let these asides take over your talk.
Stay on topic!